Senator Ping Lacson is one of many politicians currently making a point to try and stoke a fire of diplomatic conflict that doesn’t even exist. So for the sake of public education, let’s address Senator Lacson’s proposal of invoking the 1952 Mutual Defense Treaty over a collision of two private vehicles who just so happened to be from China and the Philippines. Our sincerest hope is that through this discussion, Senator Lacson remembers what the Philippine territory is.
The key concept behind this whole mess is the fact of the West Philippine Sea being a disputed territory. Look at a map and you’ll see that the country it’s nearest to is the Philippines, though you’d also do well to notice that I’m not referring to it as Philippine territory. Why? Simply because it’s not. The nature of the seas are disputed and that means that the Philippines is just one country who is laying claim to the possibly resource-rich area. Among the others are Indonesia, Bunei, Malaysi, Thailand, China, and Vietnam (who’s fishermen were also in the contested waters but who’s presence we’re not contesting because reasons).
So let’s go back to the MDF. Lacson, though quick to site it, seems unfamiliar with the particulars of the security agreement. Article V of the MDT states that the treaty only applies in cases involving “the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.” The definition of “metropolitan territories” dates back to the turn of the century, referring to territories transferred to the United States by Spain in 1898, then subsequently to the Philippines in 1946. Obviously, this does not include the West Philippine Sea.
But what about island territories? Didn’t the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rule that the Philippines had sovereignty over the contested area? Wrong.
The UNCLOS ruling decided that the Philippines had sovereign rights to the area. This does not include it in the Philippine territory and thus it is not, officially, part of the Republic of the Philippines. We do, however, have the right to use, exploit, an explore the area thanks to these sovereign rights.
China, however, was not a signatory of UNCLOS and is not bound in any way to respect the ruling of an arbitration body it never agreed to acknowledge.
Recto Bank, where the incident occurred, is one of many land formations in the Philippine’s Exclusive Economic Zone. This is defined as an area beyond and adjacent to a country’s territorial seas. EEZs extend no more than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) out from a country’s own coastlines. What does this mean? Basically the same thing – Recto Bank is not a Philippine territory. It is an asset which the Philippines should have exclusive use of, based on UNCLOS which China didn’t sign (but Vietnam did so why were they there?).
So why then should we invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty over a maritime incident involving private citizens and private vessels in a territory that isn’t even covered by the agreement?
In summary, Senator Lacson should be reminded that before he speaks, he can always take a few seconds to do a quick Google search into whatever he’s going to talk about. Hopefully, some second graders can sign up to help refresh the memory of the confused legislator with regards to what a country is and what territory means.